The Easy Option

“The Invisible Cyclist”, begins Direct Line’s press release (it’s two years old, but it’s doing the rounds again). The Invisible Cyclist.


The body of the text explains:

Using revolutionary eye tracking technology to monitor actual driver behaviour, the study found that drivers failed to notice 22 per cent of cyclists on the road, despite being in clear view of their vehicle.

Wait, I thought they were “invisible”? Turns out they were “in clear view” after all.

Let’s jump back up to the journo-friendly copy-and-pastable bullet points at the top, where we find this.

22 per cent of cyclists are not seen by motorists compared to just 4 per cent of jaywalkers

“22% of cyclists are not seen”, rather than “drivers fail to see 22% of cyclists”. Do people on bikes now have to start apologising because Smidsy becomes “Smiwsby”? (“Sorry mate, I wasn’t seen by you.”)

And “4% of jaywalkers”? What’s a jaywalker? They don’t exist in the UK. They’re a product of the US motor industry. Is Direct Line trying to gradually criminalise people crossing the road in this country? They use the term repeatedly through the press release, with no apparent self-awareness, just as they continue to talk in terms of non-motorists being “invisible” more than they do of motorists failing to observe them.

Direct Line’s spokesperson, Vicky Bristow, offered the following comment:

For the first time we know exactly where people focus their eyes when driving and the results are frightening. UK roads are busy and congested and as a result millions of cyclists are going unseen. Blaming motorists seems like an easy option, but this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.


Let’s remind ourselves of the first paragraph of the release: “drivers failed to notice 22 per cent of cyclists on the road, despite being in clear view“.

If you’re on a bike, and you’re “in clear view” of someone else, what exactly is the additional responsibility to be accepted?

The research shows that people in cars are failing to observe things—people—that are clearly visible. Yet, apparently, the very people who are clearly visible should accept responsibility for not being observed.

Truly baffling—unless of course you wanted to believe that it’s in the interests of the motoring industry to restrict the use of non-motorised transport, oppress the people who use it, and minimise any sort of moral or legal responsibility accumulating on the shoulders of those who don’t dilute their consumption of motorised transport. You know, like with the jaywalking thing. Just a thought.

The thing is, of course, that Bristow’s statement is brazenly arse-about-face: “blaming motorists” is anything but the easy option. It’s by far the most difficult option, which is precisely why she’s pushing the narrative as far away as possible from it. If she had any degree of understanding of the issue or any integrity in seeking to address it, she might suggest that driver training should explain ways to deal with saccadic masking and other natural cognitive issues—thus blaming the system perhaps more than the driver, surely not so undiplomatic as suggesting that her customers might like to pay more attention—but she apparently doesn’t, and/or that’s still too much like hard work for drivers.

Blaming cyclists is the easy option. Cyclists are other people, they’re not the ones in cars. They can sort this problem out. It’s in their interests to do it. They can magically solve this issue of people failing to see them and then driving a car into them.

Hands washed, problem offloaded. Easy. Drivers, carry on as you were. It’s the cyclists’ problem. Nothing to do. Easy. It’s for them. Not for us.

But there’s a problem, which is that there is very little “them and us” when it comes to talking about cyclists: 80% of “them” are licensed drivers, including this one.

This one also happens to be a current customer of Direct Line. But Direct Line seems to like cyclists making changes, so perhaps I should adopt their way of thinking and change that.


Direct Line took down their main press release shortly after this post was published, but fortunately they’ve apparently forgotten that it remains in the archives on their site.

Their customer service representative gave some sort of response to my request for an explanation, which was that they “removed the story as the study was two years old”. Which makes no sense at all, but I guess they’re reckoning on less PR fallout from a half-hearted attempt at whitewashing than from people repeatedly pointing out the toxicity of the content itself.

12 thoughts on “The Easy Option

  1. paulc 1 June 2015 / 10:51

    it’s on a par with Volvo coming up with ‘LifePaint’ for cyclists to make themselves visible with…

  2. Joel Cooney 1 June 2015 / 11:58

    Tangentially related, where does the 80% figure come from? I’ve seen this assertion many, many times bit I’ve never seen a source. Whilst highly plausible, it seems to be one of these figures that’s appeared ex nihilo at some point.

    • Bez 1 June 2015 / 12:10

      Sorry, I forgot the link. Now added: the source is a YouGov survey, albeit not a huge one.

  3. Frazer 1 June 2015 / 12:30

    Maybe someone could try this at their office. “No boss I haven’t done the work you gave me because I looked out the window and it became invisible. You must share the responsibility because you used a boring font.”

  4. Just Julian G7PSF (@Scribemole) 1 June 2015 / 14:10

    LOL @Fraser, I like that! Thanks Bez another excellent blog, it really is quite insidious, this campaign of victim blaming, sadly we see it now in so many areas of public life.

  5. rdrf 1 June 2015 / 17:35

    I have posted on this at length – see for example . A key element in this “cyclists must accept responsibility for not being seen” is the pushing of hi-viz etc.

    This is an excellent article – insurers and others churn out stuff like this routinely, and it is just re-cycled by the “road safety” industry without question.

    Glad someone bothered to read through it and expose them for once!

  6. Charlie Holland 1 June 2015 / 17:44

    SMIDSY should be SMIDLY – sorry mate, I didn’t look for you.

  7. mikey bikey 2 June 2015 / 10:36

    100% Bez, just makes me want to report them for incitement to..
    ..Urrr.. Highway Code.. Common sense.. Ignorance is no defence.. . Calm down Mikey (and stop talking, err typing, to yourself now.. well soon ;-))

    +1 for Frazer’s comment, genius, maybe a contest for funniest rebuttal? “Directline to offer Braille Car Insurance Insurance Certs”?

    The “Heelyist” piece rewrites a BBC story humourously, while quoting figures of 34 drivers a year mounting the pavement and hitting people.. Mmm.
    “Directline calls for 3foot high kerbs along every street”?

    And shows the perfect answer to the problem.
    “Directline calls for Proper Infrastructure”?

    Now stop, not funny anymore (if ever).
    Cheers, Mikey

  8. donk 2 June 2015 / 14:56

    “this issue can only be really addressed if both motorists and cyclists accept responsibility.”
    Blaming me for repeatedly punching you in the face would be the easy option, but you need to accept your share of the responsibility.

  9. Eric D 8 June 2015 / 07:59

    This responsibility would be “”the duty of care incumbent on the cyclist to keep out of the way wherever possible”.

    The Direct Line thing was reposted (31 May 2015) by a pro-speed motorcycle trainer Duncan McKillop
    “shifting the paradigm of thinking about road safety”

    Trio set out to develop ‘New View’ of road safety – [ Road Safety GB ]

    They’re not as outrageous as ABD, Eric Bridgstock, or Keith Peat, but getting there.

  10. Eric D 1 August 2015 / 00:06

    Aargh !
    I’ve just realised one aspect of the back-story or context for this.

    Churchill, as insurers of a driver who seriously injured a teenage girl on an unlit country road,
    appealed a High Court ruling clearing her of any contributory negligence whatsoever,
    hoping to save half a million pounds of her compensation for lifetime care.
    The driver moved aside to make way for oncoming vehicles – headlamp dazzle.

    But Churchill was (in Feb 2013) granted leave to appeal by Lord Justice Ward, who wrote: “The crux of the matter seems to be whether she should have set off at all (and I think the appellant will have difficulty about this) and whether she should have been wearing some visibility jacket.”

    I think it was also mentioned that she may have been listening to an iPod (and walking on the left)).

    The victim’s family did not contest the appeal, as that might have risked losing the other 90% of the compensation. WTF ?

    [I’m not naming those involved for Google privacy reasons.]

    It seems we’re not likely to get far with campaigning for “presumed liability” (or is it “strict liability”).
    Or would that be the answer ?
    1,784 of 2,000 signatures

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